Q: I am nearing retirement age. I have to continue to work due to financial issues but am wondering if I could claim Social Security through my deceased, former husband now and then when I retire, claim benefits on my own record. I was married for 11 years and have never remarried.
A: As a surviving divorced spouse (widow), you have the choice of which benefit to begin first—your own Social Security benefit or your widow’s benefit. You can begin a reduced widow’s benefit as early as age 60 (age 50 if you are disabled) and, if it is more advantageous for you to do so, switch to unreduced benefits on your own record at full retirement age or later. Your own benefit will reach its maximum at age 70.
You may begin benefits while continuing to work, but Social Security beneficiaries who have not yet reached their full retirement age are subject to an annual earnings limitation. In 2019, the limitation is $17,640. The Social Security Administration will withhold $1 in benefits for each $2 of excess earnings.
Before applying for any benefit, you will want to contact the Social Security Administration and obtain up-to-date estimates of the benefits payable on your own and your former husband’s earnings record. Ask for these estimates at your current age, full retirement age and age 70. That information will help you make the decision that is in your long-term best interest.